Columbia City Council moves closer to youth violence task force

Monday, July 15, 2013 | 10:38 p.m. CDT; updated 9:20 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 17, 2013

COLUMBIA — Less than an hour before friends, family and neighbors marched around McKee Park in memory of 17-year-old Tre'Veon Marshall, who was fatally shot the night before, the Columbia City Council discussed establishing a task force to address youth violence.

At Monday's council meeting, Mayor Bob McDavid issued a resolution to form a task force to address youth violence in the community. McDavid hopes that if the resolution passes, the task force will be approved at the next council meeting.

The resolution comes after a month of discussions, work sessions and news conferences about violence and the safety of youth in the community. Public concern about youth violence has flared since a June shooting at the crowded corner of East Broadway and Tenth Street.

While the final shape of a task force has not been set, the form and mission of it became more clear Monday evening. McDavid said Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser would take a lead role as "co-moderators," working to convene a group that represented an array of stakeholder interests and investigated the issue from a variety of angles.

McDavid said that Nauser and Trapp would develop a "syllabus" for the task force that would include discussions about topics such as a youth curfew, early childhood intervention and law enforcement practices.

Trapp read a draft mission statement for the task force, which said the goal would be "to create a coordinated, comprehensive, multi-year plan to address youth crime."

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala suggested that the task force should utilize resources from other organizations and communities that have dealt with similar issues, including the National League of Cities.

"This is not just a police problem. It's not just a school problem, it's also a family problem and an individual problem," Skala said.

Nauser supported Skala's comments. "We do not need to be reinventing the wheel. There are a lot of other cities that have faced this issue," she said.

Fourth Ward Councilman Ian Thomas said he still feels a need to better understand what leads juveniles into violent situations.

"At what point is there an intervention point where we can maybe prevent kids from getting into situations where they are out in a park with someone with a gun at midnight and they get shot?" Thomas said.

In an interview following the pre-council meeting, Trapp said the task force should include a "broad cross-section" of people who can share their knowledge about the issues the task force hopes to address.

"We want to depoliticize it and create the best task force to get things on track," Trapp said following the pre-council session.

Trapp said members might include representatives with experience in education, law enforcement, the juvenile court system and individuals from the neighborhoods most affected by violence.

While the term length of the task force was not determined at Monday's meeting, the conversation among the council suggested that it could last for 12 or 15 months. At the July 1 council meeting, McDavid suggested a task force of 13 members, not including Nauser and Trapp.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe suggested that the task force should provide recommendations to the council "if appropriate" before it finishes its term.

As the council conversation shifted toward the composition of the task force, Columbia Police Chief Ken Burton continued to work on draft for a youth curfew he proposed last month and plans to submit to the council.

"Chief Burton's goal is to have a model or proposed curfew ordinance ready by the end of this month or beginning of next month to present to the mayor, City Council, and city manager for review and discussion," Columbia police spokesman Sgt. Joe Bernhard said.

"I think he's trying to come up with a model ordinance based upon other best practices in other towns," Bernhard said.

Bernhard said the Columbia Police Department would be working with the juvenile division of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court to determine how the ordinance would be enforced.

"The ordinance would have to be discussed and written before the exact police procedure for handling the arrest would be known," Bernhard said.

In other cases in which a juvenile is suspected of having committed an offense, Columbia police officers either take the youth to the police station or stay on the scene and wait for a parent or legal guardian and juvenile officer to arrive to determine whether the youth will be held at the Juvenile Justice Center or be returned to parental custody, Bernhard said.

Cindy Garrett, chief juvenile officer for the juvenile division of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court last week said Burton met with her and other court administrators in June to discuss the possible curfew.

Bernhard said he expects the proposed ordinance will have provisions for youth going to and from work or returning home after school-sponsored activities. Similar provisions were proposed in an ordinance drafted in 2003, which included exceptions for juveniles traveling to and from their place of employment or "official school, religious, or recreational activity supervised by adults."

Curfew concerns among council members

Phone and email interviews with council members before Monday's council meeting suggested that there are reservations about a possible youth curfew ordinance.

"Hasty policies implemented in the heat of an emotional situation never transcend into long-term solutions," Nauser said.

First Ward Councilman Fred Schmidt expressed doubts about how a curfew could be fairly enforced. He said he had heard concerns from others that a curfew could "become a back door to a 'stop and frisk' policy" by the police.

"Anyone who merely looks young could be stopped, and once stopped, questioned or searched," Schmidt said.

Both Skala and Trapp expressed concerns that a curfew could create friction between police and members of the public.

With a curfew, "you're antagonizing the people you need to depend on for information when something bad happens," Skala said.

Nauser and Trapp said they had not seen any indication that curfews were effective in other cities.

"A curfew has not been shown to protect juveniles from crime or preventing juveniles from committing crimes," Trapp said.

Ordinance could also be presented as ballot measure

If a council vote does not approve the proposed youth curfew, the ordinance could be placed on a ballot measure for a public vote; however, interviews with council members suggest that is not a likely alternative.

Schmidt said he did not think a ballot measure would be the best approach for a youth curfew as any change to the ordinance would require another vote by the public.

"Frankly, I'm not hearing from anyone who is in favor of this, so I think doing nothing is supporting the will of the people," Schmidt said.

Nauser said she hoped Columbia citizens would not petition for the ordinance to be placed on a ballot measure.

"As we have seen with the downtown camera petition, a hasty solution was implemented that does not prevent crime, is not a guaranteed tool in solving crime and did not address the real problem — gang violence," Nauser said. "The same will be true if we pass a curfew ordinance."

While Skala did not express opposition to placing the ordinance on a ballot measure, he said it would depend on the public.

"A lot of what we do will depend on how engaged the public is on this issue," Skala said. "I'm not opposed to turning this over to public referendum, but I think it depends on what the discussion brings."

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.

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